The question in the headline is not rhetorical. I don’t know the answer, but I would like to, and so I’m presenting it for public discussion, while giving it what I think is the appropriate context.
I guess you could say I’m “writing about it.”
The question of what Kansas State owes Bill Snyder has one obvious and practical answer, which is that K-State owes Bill Snyder between $3.45 and $4.05 million per year over the next five years, per the terms of a contract extension he signed this summer.
But the more difficult and interesting question is, Even after paying him what he’s owed, does Kansas State still owe Bill Snyder a debt?
If so, what is it?
This is a practical concern that has to get sorted out, because the situation at Kansas State is that Snyder would like for his son, Sean Snyder, to take over the football program upon Bill’s retirement — a day which appears to be soon approaching. Kansas State is bad this year, and Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger on Saturday became the first to say out loud what many have been thinking.
It also means something jarring but undeniable in the wake of a 19-14 home loss to Texas on Saturday: K-State’s coaching advantage is gone.
It’s safe to say not every Wildcat is on board with the idea of a father-son handoff of this still-strong football program. And Kansas State fans would not be delusional to think their program could attract a more accomplished coach than Sean Snyder, whose entire 24-year coaching career has been spent as an assistant at Kansas State. Jim Leavitt, for example, has a clause that lets him out of his contract with Oregon if he’s offered the K-State job.
But then there’s that question: Does Kansas State owe it to Bill Snyder to hire his son to replace him?
On its face the idea seems ridiculous. Of course you don’t owe him that. You owe him the millions of dollars you agreed to pay him, and a gold watch, but the program comes above all else, even the guy whose name is on the stadium.
On the other hand, how can we be so sure Bill Snyder is wrong about his son? Why is the fact Sean’s whole career has been spent under his father’s tutelage considered a blight on his resume, when his father is the only guy who’s ever had any real success at K-State? Bill Snyder’s coaching tree is overbloomed with success stories: Bob Stoops, Mike Stoops, Mark Mangino, Brett Bielema, Rex Ryan, Jim Leavitt. Nobody in the country has a better coaching tree than that, and that’s only counting guys who went on to be head coaches. Either Bill knows a good coach when he sees one or he knows how to train them up, but either way nobody’s had more access to the secret sauce of the Miracle in Manhattan than Sean Snyder.
So if what Bill Snyder is saying to K-State is something along the lines of, “I know how this looks, but Sean is a great coach, and if you trust me on that and agree to hire him, I’ll retire and we can move forward” … then maybe K-State should trust him with one last football decision, considering he has shown some competence in that area.
If you measure a coaching career in terms of how far the guy had to drag his program, Bill Snyder may be the greatest coach in the history of college football. With no tradition, little resources and no recruiting advantages, he took a school known as “Futility U” to the brink of national championship games in two different decades, 11 consecutive bowl games, six AP Top 10 finishes in eight years and 13 AP Top 25 finishes between 1993 and 2014.
He retired in 2005, the program went into the tank, and then he came back in 2009 and went 11-2 and won the Big 12 three years later.
Snyder doesn’t have the usual coaching resume, certainly not for somebody thought of as a contender for “best of all time.” (BOAT). Kansas State is the only head coaching job he’s ever had at any level.
If he was a regular guy, Bill Snyder’s career would have taken him somewhere bigger and better than K-State sometime around 1995, and definitely after 1998. In fact, Snyder publicly flirted with UCLA about the Bruins opening left by Terry Donahue. There’s an alternate history where Snyder takes that job in 1996, goes to a few bowl games and wins a Pac-10 championship, then gets hired at, say, Nebraska in 2003 (that job went to Bo Pelini) or Auburn in 2004 (Tommy Tuberville), and who knows what happens from there.
Since Snyder is non-regular, he just stayed quietly at K-State the whole time, making himself the Quintessential Kansan (even though he’s from Missouri). I grew up in Kansas, and in my lifetime I don’t think there has been anybody in the state more popular than Bill Snyder. Not Roy Williams, not Bill Self, not Frank Martin. Where I come from, it’s Dorothy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Bill Snyder, in that exact order.
Even KU fans are reluctantly proud of Bill Snyder, despite how he has tormented them all these years — if nothing else, their most successful coach ever (Mangino) came right off the Snyder coaching tree. All the winning football that’s been played in the state of Kansas for the last 25 years traces directly or indirectly to one man: Snyder (who traces to Hayden Fry’s legendary 1983 Iowa staff).
From that perspective, Kansas State would be insane not to hire Sean Snyder. He’s so similar to Bill Snyder he’s got half his DNA.
But ultimately, no, Kansas State doesn’t owe it to Bill Snyder to hire his son. That’s not only foolhardy, but it’s outright un-American. That’s Old World thinking. The only consideration is who is best for the job.
And as much as Bill Snyder has done for Kansas State, Kansas State has done plenty for Bill Snyder. He’s got a highway and a stadium named after him, and a giant statue out front. He got to retire and return from retirement as he pleased. He’s been swaddled in praise from the local and national media for almost 30 years, and he’s been paid millions of well-earned dollars for his legendary work.
Kansas State’s only responsibilities are to itself, its alumni, its fans, and the taxpayers in the Great State of Kansas. Its only responsibility is to hire the best man for the job.
Even if that man is Sean Snyder, and even if it isn’t.